Spook House

Spook House - Michael  West This is a very tough review for me to write. Do I treat this book with the same thorough criticism I reserve for established masters of the craft, or do I view it as the work of a very talented emerging author still perfecting the art of the novel? I'm going to try to straddle that line.

First off, I'm giving an extra star right off the bat for that cover - hands downs the best cover art I've seen in years. I didn't read a word about the book or the author, but went straight to the net and ordered the limited edition, signed hardcover with beautiful extra art prints included. It's a thing of beauty, and looks amazing on my shelf.

But how about the book itself? It started off strong, really strong. The writing is clear and lucid throughout, and I found myself pulled right into the story. Very cinematic and engaging, as the cover promised. So far so good. I like this author quite a bit.

My summary review is this: I enjoyed this book quite a bit, and am not sorry at all that I read it.

*Everything that follows is nitpicking. If you like what you've read so far, then read no more!*

More full disclosure information: at the risk of alienating myself from half the horror community fanbase, I'm just going to come out and say that I am not a fan of the Lovecraftian school of horror. Ancient gods and transdimensional evil with tentacles just doesn't scare or interest me. Maybe I've eaten enough calamari in my life that encounters with the Kraken do little more than make me think of having an appetizer at The Capital Grille. That's just me. So keep that in mind when you read on. Maybe my lack of love for Lovecraft has influenced my review.

This book draws its baddies from the Lovecraftian tradition, so that deflated my interest a bit. But more than that, throughout the book I felt almost a complete lack of tension or suspense. Creatures simply leap at the main characters or engage in evil acts with little buildup or suspense. The tone of the book is so light and jovial that it never really achieves a true feeling of evil or darkness, it really does have the feel of a "spook house" throughout. With only a couple of exceptions (the scenes of a farmer hearing noises in the night is excellent, as is a scene with a father and daughter), there is never a feeling of dread or fear. It never turns the laughter into screams. Maybe that is the intention?

There is a fair amount of "Scooby Doo" logic going on. The world as we know it doesn't seem to exist outside of Harmony, Indiana, just like Scooby Doo is often confined to the city of Crystal Cove. Gruesome murders of livestock and teens doesn't interest the feds for some reason, everything is just left up to the local sheriff, paramedic and dogcatcher here, apparently. Even after monsters viciously kill several people, our feckless monster hunters run off in pursuit on a whim and a prayer with extremely implausable weaponry, no plan B if their assumptions aren't correct. All this serves to bring the perceived reality in the book down to the level of a Saturday morning cartoon, and if that's the intent - then well done. Readers should probably know that going in, though.

I have a feeling that part of the reason for this lack of investment in characters' well being is that Spook House can't seem to decide who the main character actually is, who the reader should empathize with and root for. Much like STAR WARS EPISODE 1, this book follows way too many different story lines through way too many different points of view, and this dilutes the reader's investment in any given character. I understand that the author was trying to tie this book into previous novels he had written and is creating an overarching narrative thread, but it's my opinion that this book should have been Sheri's story, and if the reader could have spent more time with that character and seen the adventure primarily unfold through her eyes, the impact of the end would have been much greater.

As it is, the story is told through a densly populated character list whose personalities blend together so much that I lost track of who was who. Michael West made an attempt at fan service with naming characters using the surnames of famous genre personalities, but I found character names such as "Mancuso" and "Dr. King" to be more distracting than amusing. This sort of thing was cute when Silent Hill did it over a decade ago, not very fresh today.

My other gripe was the main baddie, an Irishman who seems to have leapt straight out of a box of Lucky Charms. His incessant dropping of Irish words into conversations was charming at first, but after the twentieth "lass" it grew to be tiresome. The scene with him picking up a girl in a bar was very well writen and effective, though.

All that being said, and really this is just more an analytical deconstruction than a review at this point - I did find a lot to enjoy about this book. The writing was crisp and clear, very visual, not nearly as evil, scary or twisted as I'm used to. Despite a little tame violence and awkward cursing here or there, this story could easily be adapted into a kick-ass Scooby Doo cartoon.

If you are looking for a brisk, lighthearted read with limited scares and originality, this might be the book for you.

The author is certainly a very talented writer, and the cover is worth the purchase price alone.